Ankara, 29 October 1998 (RFE/RL) - The presidents of Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan today signed a political statement supporting a proposed Caspian oil pipeline from Baku to Turkey's Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov did not sign the document. But Niyazov and Turkish President Suleyman Demirel did sign an agreement to build a pipeline for the export of Turkmen natural gas across the Caspian Sea to Turkey. Officials said the pipeline would carry 16 billion cubic meters of gas each year. The documents were signed as the presidents gathered in Ankara to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the secular Turkish republic. The final decision on a main export route for Caspian oil is up to a consortium of mostly Western oil companies in the Azerbaijani International Operating Company. Some oil company officials have expressed doubts about the commercial viability of the 1,700 km-long project, priced at some $4 billion. But Turkey and the United States today reiterated their strong political support for the pipeline.
Meanwhile, Turkey today marked the 75th anniversary of the founding of its secular republic with much public celebration, military parades and tributes to the country's first president.
In Ankara, Turkish political and military leaders laid flowers at the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal, the former general and secular republic's first president, who is also known as Ataturk, or "Father of the Turks."
Turkish President Suleyman Demirel was accompanied into the mausoleum by Niyazov, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Uzbek President Islam Karimov, and Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev.
Ataturk, who is widely revered in Turkey for forging a modern state from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, curtailed religion's role and made secularism the republic's official ideology. These days, at a time of increasing tension in Turkey between secularists and Islamists, his legacy is being prominently touted by the government.